Skipper looks back on almost half a century with NSRI

Deputy station commander at the NSRI, Patrick van Eyssen

To mark Mandela Month, the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) celebrated the contribution of its volunteers.

Seven of their volunteers are 67-years-old and one of them is Patrick van Eyssen, a deputy station commander and skipper Coxswain for the 12 metre class 1 Rescue boat Spirit of Vodacom, based at the V&A Waterfront.

Patrick grew up in Bloubergstrand and now lives in Plattekloof.

He said while living in Bloubergstrand, he used to do a lot of fishing for crayfish as his father had a boat. “One day, while we were out catching crayfish with nets from the boat, just off the small island at Blouberg, the wind came up and the sea conditions changed for the worse and to top it off, we couldn’t get the motor started and we had to row back to shore, which would normally take about 40 minutes, but took us three and a half hours and we were exhausted.

“Once ashore, I went and fetched my small seagull engine and went back out to fetch the nets which, by then, were of course empty.”

When his wife’s sister and her boyfriend heard about the incident, they asked if he was keen to join the NSRI.

Patrick joined the NSRI just two years after it was formed, in 1969, and officially signed up in 1971.

Since then he has passed numerous certifications and courses, including in navigation, firefighting, life rafting, emergency care, survival and a commercial SAMSA skippers ticket.

He said he had also gained a wealth of experience over the years. “The joy of saving someone is a feeling I can’t describe and the relief and appreciation from the rescued party/ parties and their family members are amazing.

“I love going to sea and have the greatest respect for the ocean. I have received long-service awards which have been signed by various state presidents, Nelson Mandela being one of them. I unofficially met Nelson Mandela on Robben Island, while bringing penguins back from an oils spill. The prisoners were helping to catch the penguins and carrying the cages to the boat.

“Mandela Day is a reminder to everyone regarding how we should always be doing something to honour and improve the lives of others. This should be done every day but Mandela Day is a reminder of what Nelson Mandela sacrificed for others.”

Patrick moved through the ranks and was station commander for a number of years until he decided it was time for the younger generation to take over the helm.

“During the 1970s, we managed without modern technology, no cellphones or the internet, using only landlines and later paging systems. The NSRI was a first-class rescue and prevention organisation 50 years ago, and I am proud to be part of an organisation which has grown over the decades, and progressed to the technology and equipment we have today, and which has become a well-established rescue organisation that is well known throughout the world,” he said.

Partrick believes he has volunteered more than 10 000 hours and still gets “tremendous joy and satisfaction from saving another person’s life”. 

He has numerous long-service awards and is looking forward to receiving his 50-year NSRI award next year.

While he would love to stay on as a volunteer for as long as possible, he said it was encouraging to see the enthusiasm of the younger generation coming through the ranks.

“Of course, the time will come when I will have to call it a day! NSRI has been a part of most of my life and my wife and children supported me with this.

“My motto is work hard, play hard, so when we get a break, we like to do 4×4 trips to Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and here in our own country.”